Friday, May 28, 2010

All-aboard for the 'Horror Express'

Horror Express (1973)
Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Sylvia Totorsa
Director: Eugenio Martin
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

A British explorer (Lee) finds what he believes to be proof of Darwin's theory of evolution high in a frozen mountain glacier on a mountain in northern China. As he is transporting the frozen carcas back to the West on the Trans-Siberian express, a weasely collegue/competitor (Cushing) decides to get a look at the find, and inadvertently unleashes a horror that has lain dormant for tens of thousands of years. It quickly becomes apparent that no-one onboard the train is safe as it makes its way across the frozen wilderness....

"Horror Express" is another one of those movies I remember being scared by as a kid. Specifically, the scene where the Kozak leader (played by Telly Savalas(!)) and his men are battling the monster in a darkened traincar. This is one of those films that is exactly as scary as I remember it!

A bit slow-moving at times, "Horror Express" still provides plenty of chills and shocks... and even a couple of unexpected plot-twists. The lighting, camera-work, and special effects all help underscore the growing tension in the film--even if some of the FXs are a bit cheesy--and the actors are all very good, despite the fact that this is one of those international European production where a dozen different languages were being spoken on the set. Lee and Cushing in particular shine; I think this movie features some of the better performances given by either one of them.

I think this is a must-see if you're a fan of Cushing, Lee, or the Hammer Films-style of movies.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

'Blood Beast Terror' is Cushing's Worst?

The Blood Beast Terror (1968)
Starring: Peter Cushing, Robert Flemyng and Wanda Ventham
Director: Vernon Sewell
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A blood-sucking creature is on the loose, and Inspector Quennel (Cushing) is hot on its trail. All the clues point to the household of harmless entomologist Dr. Mallenger (Flemyng). Can his wanton, promiscious daughter (Ventham) be a literal man-eater?

Peter Cushing reportedly described this movie as the worst one he was ever in. While it isn't all that good--it's slow-moving, it's requirements for special effects to turn a buxom babe into a giant blood-sucking moth are beyond the meager budget it was produced with, and the ending is one of the most abrupt and badly motivated among the many abrupt and badly motivated endings of British monster movies from the 1950s and 1960--but it isn't anywhere near as bad as "Scream and Scream Again," so I can only assume that either Cushing had a better time making the latter film or he hadn't made it yet when he talked down "Blood Beast Terror".

While it's certainly true that this is one of those very rare occasions where Cushing doesn't seem to be giving the role his all--this is the only time I remember feeling like he "phoned in" his performance--he still brings more life to the scenes he's in than is found virtually anywhere else in the film. In fact, aside from Cushing, the only interesting thing in the picture is Wanda Ventham (or, more specifically, Wanda Ventham's cleavage).

This is a film you can safely skip until you've seen every other Peter Cushing movie there is. And, yes, that includes "Top Secret!"